B.C.A. Holds Its Fourth Community Conference

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The Balanda people from across the United States and Canada gathered in Dallas, Texas for the fourth Balanda Community Association Conference held on July 2nd – 3rd , 2011.

As has been the tradition for the past four years, on July 2, 2011, the Balanda people from across the United States and Canada gathered in Dallas, Texas for the fourth Balanda Community Association Conference.  This year’s conference was very important because it was held on the eve of the declaration of a new nation in the Nile Valley:  The Birth of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Unlike in the previous years, however, we put out a call for scholarly papers on a variety of issues and topics we believe the Balanda Community is sure to face in the independent Republic of South Sudan.  As a result, four major papers were presented at this conference. They covered health, challenges awaiting the Balanda community in the new nation, education, and nation building.  Presenters included Mr. Arkangelo Goz, Soliman Michael, Robert Martin Anur, and Philip Dominic Kiyawa Ujama.

Our goal is to publish each paper presented at this year’s conference along with the complete biography of each presenter so that members of our community at large would have the opportunity to read the papers presented.  Without further due, here is the full text of the first paper presented by Mr. Arkangelo Goz on the challenges of a nation building in the Republic of South Sudan:

Nation Building – Republic of South Sudan

Dr. Vakindi Unvu, President, The Balanda Community Association, USA

Standing Committee of the Balanda Association, distinguished guests, fellow Sudanese;

It gives me great honor and pleasure to be here today at the invitation of your President, Dr. Vakindi, to speak a little on the topic of nation building with focus on South Sudan. This is a vast topic, but I will touch on just a few aspects of it and give my personal opinions. I want to thank the Balanda Community Association; all of you in attendance and Dr Vakindi for accommodating me and making me feel welcomed.

In just a few days from now, South Sudan will be declared a new nation after it voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession from the North in the referendum of January 9th, 2011. This is a major milestone in the fulfillment of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed by the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, Chairman of The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha in 2005. South Sudan will become the 54th and newest nation in Africa. The euphoria and celebration of this long awaited independence, however, will have to give way quickly to the long hard and daunting challenges of rebuilding this new nation, which has been devastated by two decades of war. There will be practically no time to bask in this new freedom or enjoy a honeymoon, if you will. It must start to rigorously address its multiple problems on all fronts.

South Sudan is one of the least developed places in the world. It will virtually be starting from scratch doing what is more of a construction than a reconstruction process. Major investments will need to be made in infrastructure, healthcare, education, water, sanitation, electricity, utilities and roads.  South Sudan covers an area of 227,000 square miles, which is approximately 85% the size of Texas. The UN Population Fund estimates its population to be between 7.5 and 9.7 million, and about one third are displaced. 2

There are less than 100 miles of paved roads, most of which are in the capital,Juba. Many of the roads in rural areas still need to be de-mined and most are dilapidated and desperately in need of rehabilitation. A system of inter-state, intra-state and feeder roads, which are essential elements of development, need to be put in place. They enable us to move products from farm to market and allow for growth and development throughout the country.

Health statistics on the South Sudan are very disheartening. It is estimated that about one quarter (¼) of its children do not make it to age five; and about 48% of the deaths are caused by water related diseases. Nearly half (½) of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. Mortality rate for mothers is incredibly high: One out of 50 pregnant women dies during child birth.10 this is one of the highest mortality rates in the world. Life expectancy of the South Sudanese is estimated to be 42 years.

Nation building is a multi-generational process that is often a very long and rough road to travel. It must be generated and led internally. Our neighbors in Somalia, Uganda, Congo and Rwanda, to mention a few, are examples of this difficult process. Like many newly independent countries, South Sudan faces many challenges. These can be categorized into three groups: Internal political dynamics, Post CPA north-south issues, and external factors.

First, internal political dynamics: These include, but are not limited, to the legacy of prolonged wars, which have resulted in a wide distribution of firearms in the hands of civilians. This new nation is awash in guns and engulfed in ethnic rivalries and inter-tribal warfare; there are problems with violence in the poor and traumatized population; and there is lack of confidence in the ability of the government to provide order and equal protection to all under the laws.

The challenges go beyond the obvious focus on developing infrastructure and delivery of basic social services. South Sudan must create a citizenry that is loyal to the nation. This means having citizens that take pride in being citizens of South Sudan first and tribal citizenship second. Loyalty to the nation increases when the government effectively provides what is expected of it. It must provide such things as security, good governance, and equal protection to all under the law.  We know that what united us in the past was the shared interest to break away from the successive oppressive regimes of Khartoum. Now that we won’t have them to blame anymore, our unifying force should be the desire to build a strong nation together, and that nation will need a shared identity. This must be harnessed and will need to be politically constructed.  This very important task must be done by both government and private citizens. We must cultivate a sense of strong cohesion, national unity and citizen’s pride.

It is known that citizens who feel marginalized tend not to contribute to their fullest. A collective effort is, therefore, needed to set a policy for constructing a national identity. The Government must involve its citizens early on into this especially crucial process of nation building. It must call on the youth, elderly, women, physically challenged, returnees, internally displaced persons and victims of war to contribute with whatever skills and knowledge they have to the process of nation building.

South Sudan belongs to all South Sudanese. This means we must address ourselves to identifying, documenting and celebrating the cultural practices that are common to all South Sudanese.  Dr. Jok Madut Jok, who is a J. Randolph Senior Fellow at the US Institute of Peace, and an Undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage in the Government of South Sudan, has pointed out in his article on Cultural Diversity & Fundamentals of Nation Building, that “Nation building is not just about physical reconstruction, provision of services, or material wealth. It is, in equal measure, about using our shared customs to prevent further escalation of conflict. It is also about upholding values, customs and traditional practices that can be enshrined into national identity.”  We need to teach our values to younger people to remind them who we are as a people.

Second, the post CPA north-south issues: There are several post CPA north-south issues that require our undivided attention. Failure to negotiate them carefully could result in instability and a possible return to an all out war again. These issues include (1) wealth-sharing, specially the oil resources. The oil revenue is currently being shared 50-50. This makes up 98% of the budget of the South, and 50% of the budget of the North.  85% of the oil fields are in the South, and the North has the refineries and the only pipelines to get the oil to market. The two sides disagree on continuing with the current 50-50 revenues sharing formula. They must find a middle ground for there to be peace. (2) Border demarcation, there are still disagreements on the remaining 20% of the demarcation; (3) contested border areas of Abyei; (4) security arrangements with regards to border control; (5) Sudan’s staggering external debt of 38 billion dollars; (6) international treaties; and (7) the question of citizenship for Southerners and Northerners who are still residing on either side of the demarcated border between Northern Sudan and South Sudan.

The third is external factors. South Sudan is land-locked, and does not have industries. It has a long history of food shortages, and is surrounded by countries that have their own economic problems and internal conflicts. These neighbors, namely Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Congo have a great interest in what becomes of South Sudan because they will be affected by it. A stable South Sudan could provide them a consumer market for their products and an employment market for their skilled but jobless young population. An unstable South Sudan, on the other hand, could bring insecurity to the region. We should strive to be a positive force to build a new, inclusive, and democratic nation that will help stabilize the region.

To ensure that we do not become a failed state, which many countries fear that we will be, South Sudanese, in both public and private sectors, must leave the past behind.  The people of South Sudan must embark on a process of healing and reconciliation; we must forgive and forget events that happened during the war and work together for the welfare of our new nation. The success of our nation depends on our unity.     We should call upon such groups as the Sudan National Council of Churches to use their experience to help bring about healing and reconciliation.

The government should encourage skilled professionals in Diaspora to return home and participate in the process of nation building; and explore ways to tap into the pool of knowledge and expertise of those professionals in Diaspora who, for some reason, cannot return home immediately and get them to contribute by means of available modern internet technology.

And for those who will find themselves in government or leadership positions, we ask that you promote, reward and celebrate hard work. Teach and enforce ethical behavior at the work place and institute a policy of zero tolerance for corruption. Place people in jobs they are fully qualified to do. We must learn to avoid all the ugly isms that have plagued us for decades and served only to cripple us. Let us do away with chauvinism, sexism, racism, tribalism, and nepotism. Government should play a leading role in providing all its citizens with safety, security and equal protection under the law.

Figures from the United Nations (UN) show that about 85% of the adult population in the South is illiterate and only 2% of children complete primary school. This should be remedied by investing in education and making new laws that mandate that all children attend school. Facilitate and encourage adult education to teach basic literacy and various technical skills to help build a strong and trained workforce. When possible, facilitate distance learning. Encourage female education and integrate women into the work place. Encourage girl-child education and abolish such practices as early and forced marriages. We must recognize that beyond the ability to have children, women are a very integral force in the building of a nation and they must not be left out. We have to redefine women’s role in our society; after all, they make up 50% of our population. We should have partnership where the local communities construct school buildings and the State to arrange for volunteers or religious organizations to supply teaching staff and school supplies. This gives the local a sense of ownership.

I am going to stick my neck out and ask that our tribal leaders and experts re-examine the tribal marriage custom of some tribes where hundreds of heads of cattle are demanded as dowry. This practice is probably behind the cattle raids and counter raids which have taken the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of our citizens and left many more maimed and unproductive.

A shared and inclusive agricultural growth is very important in ensuring social stability and reducing poverty. Southerners have traditionally been agricultural people but have become less so during the war. We need to go back now to this noble way of life in order to feed ourselves. We have been blessed with good fertile soil. Government should make incentives for financial institutions to provide micro-lending and enable people to buy equipment, empower women at the village level to do cooperatives and develop crafts and trade between villages. Government should invite agricultural universities and colleges from abroad to provide personnel with targeted goals such as crop development, or domestic animals such as goats, poultry or fish hatcheries. The government could build confidence by being involved in fertilizer and seed programs. We must transform our subsistence type of agriculture to a more modern and efficient practice to ensure that we produce enough food not just for our local consumption but also for export.

Although our new nation is going to need foreign assistance in many forms, we must do our fair share of working toward self sufficiency and freedom from prolonged hand-outs. We must strive not to be another failed state in the region.

Government of South Sudan should pursue peace with the government of Sudan and remain engaged with them. Our fate is intertwined with theirs. We will need each other in the coming years.  We must, therefore, seek cooperation and harmony with them.

Let me close with these thoughts for the citizens of our new republic:

  1. We must develop strong allegiance to the nation first; and second to the tribe and everything else.
  2. The people of South Sudan must embark honestly on the long and difficult process of healing and reconciliation by involving tribal leaders. We must forgive and forget.
  3. We must be united. Only through unity will we be able to maintain peace and enjoy its dividends. Only then can we truly enjoy our freedom.  Remember, “Freedom is not the right to do as you please; it is the liberty to do as you ought to.”   I call on each and every one of you, my brothers and sisters, to rise to the challenge, do your part, do it with pride and commitment, and with trust in God.  Do it for our fallen martyrs, for ourselves and for our children. Failure is not an option.

I want to congratulate President Omar Hassan al Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit for staying true to the spirit of the CPA to the very end.

Finally, I want to thank the many nations, humanitarian organizations, church groups, and individuals from around the world who have unselfishly opened their arms and wallets to help, shelter, and support us through our long and painful journey to independence. May their generosity and tireless work never be forgotten, but be honored and recognized always.

Thank you all, and may God bless each and every one of you. Thank you.


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